World Cup: Sunday wrapup

World Cup: Sunday wrapup

By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Sunday: With Didier Drogba in the starting lineup, Ivory Coast had to feel somewhat confident entering its match against Brazil. Luis Fabiano, however, scored twice before the 50 minute mark and Elano added his second strike of the World Cup later in the match to give Brazil a commanding lead. Drogba was able to direct a header past Julio Cesar to get the Elephants on the scoreboard but they fell by a 3-1 final. Brazil officially qualified for the tournament's second round with the result.

Frustrations mounted late in the match for Ivory Coast, resulting in an Elano injury and a whole lot of chippy play. The Elephants' Abdul-Kader Keita also gave us the tournament's most absurd flop when he ran into Kaka, threw his chest into the Brazilian superstar's shoulder, and collapsed to the ground grabbing his face. The incident may have been more humorous if it didn't result in a second yellow card for Kaka, barring him from competition against Portugal. Such acts did Ivory Coast little good, however. They find themselves in a must-win situation against North Korea next week.

Also Sunday: After New Zealand picked up its first ever World Cup point as a result of Winston Reid's tying goal in the 93rd minute against Slovakia, my father adopted the All Whites as his new non-American favorite. I told him not to hold his breath. On this Father's Day, I'll acknowledge that maybe Dad knows best. True, the Kiwis were holding on for dear life for most of their shocking 1-1 draw against Italy. But they held on successfully, and that's far more than anyone could have expected. Italy controlled play thoroughly, but Mark Paston was vital in goal and New Zealand mitigated the defending champs' vaunted set piece play. Considered by most the tournament's weakest team, the All Whites have had a wildly successful go of it already and even stand a shot at advancing. Italy's only goal came on a controversial penalty kick. Bringing more attention to the tournament's sometimes questionable refereeing, Kiwi captain Ryan Nelsen strongly condemned the foul call that warranted the shot after the match.

Showing that their impressive draw against the Italians was no fluke last week, the Paraguyans scored once in each half against Slovakia to pick up three points. The South Americans' defense was again very strong, allowing the Slovaks only one shot on net in posting a clean sheet. Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros posted the goals, early and late respectively, putting La Albirroja in clear control of Group F with only the Kiwis still to see.

In a showing of karmic justice, France who never should have even qualified for the World Cup after benefiting from a missed handball call against Ireland has completely fallen apart just two days before what will almost certainly prove to be its final match of the tournament. Striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home after clashing with his coach, and today the squad refused to train following more infighting. Team director Jean-Louise Valentin resigned in response, ashamed of the team. The Irish are smiling tonight.

What it all means: Group F's standings are shocking at this point in the tournament. Italy was expected to easily walk through group play but has posted disappointing 1-1 draws against both Paraguay and New Zealand. Still, Azzurri is not doomed. A win against last place Slovakia would return the defending champs to the Round of 16. Paraguay, meanwhile, will advance with just a draw against the All White. And what about the Kiwi's wildest dreams? A win against Paraguay would yield advancement. They could also move forward with a draw if Slovakia and Italy see the same result and if they have scored more goals than Azzurri. If that number is tied at the end of group play (as it is right now), the runner-up would be decided by a drawing of lots. The Group F finales, which many predicted would be a formality, are looking well worth watching.

Ivory Coast will take in the North Korea-Portugal match tomorrow hoping for a Korean victory. A Portuguese victory over North Korea would put the Elephants in a much tougher spot. Should they win tomorrow, Portugal will be in excellent position as they'd need just a draw against a Kaka-less and maybe Elano-less Brazilian team that would happily finish first in the group with such a result. Drogba's late goal may benefit Ivory Coast if goal differential proves to be a factor. In any event, the Elephants must beat North Korea on Friday to represent Africa in the Round of 16.

What to watch on Monday: In 2014, Switzerland and Chile could make for a fine World Cup quarter or even semi-finals match. But even in 2010, the two Group G teams with very bright futures will have a whole lot to play for when they meet in Port Elizabeth. The group's leaders should provide an interesting match-up. Chile's attack-oriented style proved itself both entertaining and effective last week but the Swiss showed against Spain that they're capable of striking when the opposition may not expect it. Their strong midfield could easily fuel a lethal counterattack.

Also Monday: North Korea gave Brazil a much harder time than expected, but Portugal is counting on taking three points out of its match with the Chollima. Cristiano Ronaldo's squad looked solid against Ivory Coast but failed to gain a clear leg-up against the Elephants in competition for the group's runner-up spot. Now that the Africans lost to Brazil, though, Portugal would benefit mightily with the three points. There's something about this strange and mysterious North Korean team that took Brazil to the limit, though. They shouldn't be taken lightly.

Spain takes back to the pitch after suffering a massive upset last week against Switzerland. La Furia Roja will now see the group's weakest competition in Honduras. They need three points out of this one and there's no reason they shouldn't collect them. Even a draw could spell serious, serious trouble for Spain. If they fail to win the tournament favorites' star will fall considerably, and deservedly for that matter. Having said that, consider it unlikely. La Furia's attack was active last week and the team was not outplayed. Goals should come this time around.

Question of the Day: Will Chile push as much in the attack against Switzerland as it did against Honduras? Onlookers oohed and ahhed as La Roja put on a show last week, but in retrospect they needed to collect three points against the group's weakest team. Given the quality of the Swiss midfield and counterattack, it stands to reason that Chile may be a bit more reserved. But while one point would do the squad well, a victory would make a trip to the Round of 16 quite likely. Will Chile play it safe or will the up-and-comers have scoring on the mind?

Full schedule (all times EDT): Portugal v North Korea Green Point Stadium, Cape Town 7:30 a.m.; Chile v Switzerland Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth 10:00 a.m.; Spain v Honduras Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg 2:30 p.m.

Quote of Note: "It's an incredible result and it's way above anything we have achieved before against the stature of our competitors. Anything is possible and we're doing okay for a team who some said shouldn't be playing at this World Cup." - New Zealand coach Ricki Herbert following the Kiwis surprising draw against Italy.

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team


Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

NEW YORK - Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as coach of the U.S. soccer team Monday, six days after a 4-0 loss at Costa Rica dropped the Americans to 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is the favorite to succeed Klinsmann, and his hiring could be announced as early as Tuesday. Arena coached the national team from 1998 to 2006.

Qualifying resumes when the U.S. hosts Honduras on March 24 and plays four days later at Panama.

"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup."

A former German star forward who has lived mostly in Southern California since retiring as a player in 1998, Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time.

The USSF announced in December 2013 a four-year contract extension through 2018, but the successful World Cup was followed by poor performances. The U.S. was knocked out by Jamaica in last year's Gold Cup semifinals and lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. The team rebounded to reach this year's Copa America semifinals before losing to Argentina 4-0. But this month Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in the first home qualifying loss for the U.S. since 2001.

And last week, the Americans were routed in Costa Rica, their largest margin of defeat in qualifying since 1980. They dropped to 0-2 for the first time in the hexagonal, as the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean is known.

While there is time to recover, given the top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team, players seemed confused by Klinsmann's tactics, such as a 3-4-1-2 formation used at the start against the Mexicans.

"Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann," Gulati said. "There were considerable achievements along the way ... but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come."

The U.S. had not changed coaches in the middle of qualifying since the USSF made the position a full-time job and hired Bob Gansler in 1989 to replace Lothar Osiander, who also at the time was a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant.

Klinsmann made controversial decisions, such as dropping Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster while taking along relatively inexperienced players such as John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, which drew criticism from some in the American soccer community.

He coached the team to a 55-27-16 record, including a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and victories in exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He has worked in the past year to integrate more young players into the lineup, such as teen midfield sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

Arena, a 65-year-old wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then coached D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. As U.S. coach, he led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals in the team's best finish since 1930.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination in 2006. Gulati unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, then coached his nation to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

When Gulati and Klinsmann couldn't reach an agreement, the USSF hired Bradley, who coached the team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. A year later, the Americans stumbled in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann replaced Bradley.

Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, '12 and '14.